Assessment for Learning without Limits; Alison Peacock
Assessment is an interesting word in education today. To me, it has always meant how teachers think, as it simply means understanding where children are and where they need to go next. Dylan Wiliam now refers to formative assessment as reflective and reactive teaching. So, in reality, it is embedded in relationships, which in many ways sums up a major thrust of this book.
The word “trust” appears a great deal in Alison Peacock’s book, underpinning the essence of good teaching. Professional trust to create and try out different approaches that enable children to access a particular element of learning; trust for children, that they have the capacity to be partners in their own learning.
Alison’s priority, when taking over the Wroxham School, was to develop the team ethic, among the staff, the children and the community as a whole. Trust is embedded in team relationships, fostered through discourse and dialogue; sharing thinking, developing ideas and being part of the act of creation, of projects, large and small. Developing a school over time, or a class of children over a year, are acts of creation, understanding starting points, selecting and organising appropriate resources, evaluating all the while where the journey is heading and how each participant is coping; whether they need some support to keep up. Assessment, in this model, is premised upon teacher acute awareness of their “team” and, in many ways, always has meant that, even before it became an everyday part of current teacher speak.
Creating learning opportunities for children ensures that the teacher starts by taking into account every child’s starting point, which immediately identifies their need for appropriate challenge. Whether this is offered as a choice, as is the case in the Wroxham School, or as challenges within a class with subtle direction, as a transition towards self-selection, it is the fact that challenge is embedded that sets the journey. The quality of tasking, coupled with collaborative approaches, where appropriate to the task encourages thinking, coupled with learning dialogue, externalising of thoughts, that can be modified and extended through discussion; peer to peer or with an adult. If children are encouraged to talk, with an active listener, they learn the conventions of discussion and challenge becomes part of normal development.
The breadth of opportunity available to children is a significant factor in their developing interests. What is often articulated as a broad, balanced, relevant and challenging curriculum opportunity can soon become narrowed and more restrictive, to achieve the narrow end of success in a few subjects. However, the breadth of a curriculum ensures a wider range of experiences, within which a broader vocabulary is developed. This enhances the central English curriculum, which also provides the structures through which experience can be explored; sketch trees outside, then add adjectives that describe tree bark or leaves in winter before writing descriptively or creating a poem.
Every child is different; this is a truism that can often be overlooked. Understanding the needs of each child is assessment; spotting and dealing with their apparent needs in each lesson is a major part of the current teacher standards, 6&5, so should be an embedded part of every teacher. Thinking on your feet within a lesson is assessment, as is reflecting and reviewing between lessons, to reset the journey.
Assessment is thinking about children.
But, and this is often the big but, the range of children in the class can cause teacher disquiet, as they seek to challenge every child within the range. Some schools achieve this through greater personalisation of targets and challenges, within system alteration that enables different outcomes that still demonstrate learning progress; the system fits the child, rather than the child having to fit their space in the predetermined system. Where assessment and systems support learning, every child can “fit”.
Tracking learning is a bit of the assessment fallout within the current National Curriculum, as teachers seek to evidence the fine points that are being sought in moderation. That is likely to take a great deal of teacher time, until simplified (and acceptable) systems are described. Equally, end of year descriptors of a child’s achievement, as seen in July 2016 reports, could embed a new form of labelling.
Assessment is key to learning, so is an essential aspect of teacher development. Understanding what outcomes say about a child’s progress is central to reflection and decisions. What I’d love to see as the third book in this series, would be exemplars explored through time, so that early career teachers, who don’t have the benefit of experience, are supported to make secure judgements, over time, by comparing current outcomes with recent and more distant past outcomes. In that way, they may begin to take greater charge of progress and pace of learning, avoiding the trap of an “activities, or recipe-based” approach to practice, learning to think like a teacher, which is teacher standard 2.